There is a small island chain between the southern tip of the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia and the northernmost point of the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The Russians call them the Kuril. The Japanese call them the Senkaku. Whatever one wants to call them, they are strategically important because not only to the serve as a link between the two nations with a history of war with each other, but because at least seven centuries at current rates of use of rare earth minerals were found there.
Just as it is often times not the big things, but the little one that make people upset and can lead to serious tension including war, the Russians and the Japanese have continued to viciously exchange words over these islands. Russia has recently stated that she intends to step up “self defense measures” in the islands, much to the anger of Japan:
Despite Japan’s protests, official trips to the Russian Kuril Islands and planned activities to strengthen defense in the region will continue.
As the channel transmits “Russia 24” , the world public was informed by the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova.
This, she said, is about the consistent implementation of the federal program for the socio-economic development of the Kuril Islands in 2016-2025, and also, taking into account the military-political situation in this part of the Pacific Ocean, to improve the defense capability of the Russian region.
The diplomat noted that the inclusion of the southern islands of the Kuril ridge in the composition of geographical maps in Japan is illegitimate and worsens relations between Moscow and Tokyo.
On August 6, Japanese ambassador Toyohisa Kodzuki was invited to Smolenskaya Square, where Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov drew his attention to the unacceptability of Tokyo’s protests in connection with Russia’s actions in the South Kuril Islands.
August 2, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev visited Iturup Island, after which the Japanese Foreign Ministry called the visit “regrettable” and did not coincide with the position of official Tokyo. (source, source)
The tone of the article suggests a very strong stance by Russia against Japan. But is is really so?
Russia recently reported (in the “crime” section, of all things) that Japan was illegally listing the islands as her territories for the 2020 upcoming Olympic games.
In response to this, Russia has declared that she may officially protest the 2020 Olympics:
Organizers of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo uploaded an interactive map of the route of the Olympic Torch relay for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. As one can see on the map, South Kuril Islands, which Japan disputes with Russia, were marked as a territory of Japan.
The interactive map shows the path of the Olympic Torch across Japan. The Russian islands of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai are assigned to Hokkaido Prefecture, although the Olympic route does not run through these islands.
Japan considers the above-mentioned four islands of the Kuril ridge its northern territories. Japan persistently marks them as its own islands on maps and constantly expresses protests in response to Russia’s activities on them.
Russia considers the islands in question to be the territory of the Russian Federation. Moscow refers to the act of surrender that was signed after the end of World War II. Russia and Japan have never signed the peace treaty because of their disagreements on the issue.
Svetlana Zhurova, State Duma deputy, Olympic champion in speed skating, said that she was expecting the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reprimand Japan for displaying the image of the South Kuril Islands as Japanese territory on the website of the 2020 Olympics.
Now regardless of what one’s position of Russia or Japan is- positive or negative -this situation seems rather interesting.
Russia is a massive nation at almost two times size of the entire US (all states). However, she has only 43% of the population of the US. Her population continues to decline in spite of massive migration from Central Asia, suggesting a fertility collapse among the “natives”.
Compare this with the tiny nation of Japan, whose population stands at 126 million and just smaller than the US state of California, and yet also has one of the most powerful economies in the entire world. While Japan has many social problems, it cannot be said of her that she is a “weak” nation, or “incapable” of helping herself if she desired to. Her history as an imperial power testifies to this, and even the Chinese military, the third most powerful military in the world, is concerned about the rise of Japan for this reason.
The Japanese military is very powerful and is returning to full power, and her population is 88% of Russia’s.
Russia is a powerful nation, but as I have stated before, she is locked by history and geography to many unforgiving neighbors and circumstances. Even if she was to form a powerful alliance in the West with Germany and Turkey, she would still have to contend with the Chinese to the south and the Japanese in the East, let alone the US. In such a situation, it would be difficult for any US “victory” to be realized, and it still could lead to the breakup of Russia, at least in half. Remember that Japan occupied Siberia from the end of the Russo-Japanese war in 1905 until 1920, with troops stationed at Novosibirsk, which is the geographical halfway point of Russia.
She may have strong words for Japan, but will she be able to seriously back them up if necessary? The Japanese are a very war-like people and they will put their words into action if it is requested of them.
It is an important situation to watch, and all the more emphasizes the need for peace because small provocations can lead to war, which never ends well when large stakes are involved.